Recent years have seen an explosion of new talent in genre fiction, new voices such as Mark Lawrence, N.K. Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed, Douglas Hulick, and Felix Gilman have had their debut novels produced by publishers such as Ace, Orbit, DAW, Roc, and Tor. But try as they may, these publishers have limited resources and only a small number of titles are selected for each editorial calendar. As such, many great books are turned away, not because they aren’t worthy of an audience, but because there just isn’t enough bandwidth.
Then a funny thing happened, in late 2010 the ebook revolution, which had been promised for years, finally came into its own, and as a result, the once-closed gates have been bashed and broken. The biggest benefactors of this disruptive technology have been self-published authors. Those that have decided to go it on their own either because they were rejected by the mainstream presses, or their entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t stand being confined.
Genre fiction such as romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mysteries had a distinct advantage in this brave new world. Audiences who craved these types of popular fiction were easy to find, and hence the savvy indie authors were able to get the word out about their books. Sites like goodreads, Library Thing and Shelfari allow readers of similar tastes to form groups and communities where new books and new authors are discovered and shared.
I’ve heard some in the publishing industry dismiss the rising influence of e-book indie authors with statements such as, “Self-publishing has always been around, nothing has changed.” But they are missing an important component…distribution, and this makes all the difference in the world. For the first time there is a viable platform that allows a self-published author to have their titles purchased by the masses. The barriers to entry, which are so high in a print dominated world, no longer exist and sites like Amazon offer authors a level playing field.
In traditional brick-and-mortar stores, it takes deep pockets to get a book in front of a reader. Co-op dollars (money paid by publishers for special treatment, such as being placed in the front of the store) keep readers focused on the blockbuster releases. The high costs of large print runs, warehousing, and a sales force to market to corporate buyers, made it impossible for self-published books to get into stores. These authors were forced to sell books off their own websites or out of the trunks of their cars. Such a low volume distribution system, made it impossible for a self-published book to find any traction.
But an ebook’s only distribution cost is incurred during a sale. When priced between $2.99 and $9.99 the author/publisher keeps 70% of the income and the retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google) keep 30%. What’s more, sites like Amazon don’t rely heavily on co-op fees. Instead, it’s the sales volume that determines how much exposure a title receives. Their artificial intelligence will dynamically build pages based on past buying or browsing habits. When shopping, the reader is exposed to other books through “also bought,” “bundle and save” and “recommended for you” prompts. Just like the book social network sites, which collect readers of like tastes into groups, so, too, does Amazon create pockets of of genre fiction can be exposed to new authors, even those not released by a big-six publishing giant.
If you look at Amazon’s Kindle Best Sellers in Epic Fantasy list you’ll find it is split 50/50 between traditional and self-published authors. Names like Michael G. Manning, David Dalglish, David A. Wells, Toby Neighbors, M.R. Mathias, and Lindsay Buroker are selling just as many books as Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, and R.A. Salvatore. What’s more, their making more money doing so. A traditionally published author whose book is sold for $7.99 will earn $1.40 ($1.19 after paying their agent’s fee). A self-published author selling their book for $3.99 earns $2.80 twice as much!
The lines between self-published and traditional published are blurring and a new type of author—the hybrid—is emerging. These are those who publish works both traditionally and through self-publishing. I myself was signed by Orbit for my Riyria Revelations series which was previously self-published. Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song has been purchased by Ace/Penguin. Science fiction author Hugh Howey has kept his US ebook rights but has a deal with Simon & Schuster to sell print copies in the US and with Random House for distribution in the UK of his bestselling book Wool.
Then there are the traditionally published authors who are want to keep a higher percentage of their profits. Terry Goodkind self-published The First Confessor. Brandon Sanderson released the ebooks for two novellas himself: Legion in September 2012 and The Emperor’s Soul in November. Cory Doctorow has self-published a number of works and uses crowd-funding through Kickstarter to raise the capital for cover design and editing.
What does this all mean for genre readers? It means you’ll have more choices and selections than ever before. Books that don’t fit into traditional molds (always difficult for big presses to risk taking a chance on) can find an audience through self-publishing. More titles can be released by prolific authors who can quickly put out a self-published work in a fraction of the time it takes for traditional publishers which need to fit each book in a publication calendar that is determined as much as a year in advance. It means authors are earning more money, allowing them quit their day jobs and providing them with more time to produce more stories. It means that there is a brave new world and both readers and writers will be the winners.